My son turns 4 next month. While he is still small, he seems sort of gigantic to me lately, and these 4 years are a blur. My pregnant and postpartum days are behind me, and it seems like all of a sudden that I’m no longer surrounded by toothless grins and pureed peas and babies slung onto my hip.
Those babies grew teeth and learned to eat their peas whole and now are too big to sit comfortably on my hips. Those days were exhausting and always new (I didn’t know whether I was up or down half the time), and I worked all the time, but without pay or much recognition. Caring for babies can seem like invisible work unless you’re the one doing it (or, perhaps, the one who has done it). But the urgency and the tenderness of the work is energizing in a way that always gave me strength when I most needed it.
Nowadays, I’m spending a lot of time realizing how futile my initial worries as a new mom really were. Breast or bottle? My babies did both, but mainly, they were fed. Cry it out or attachment parenting? Again, I did a bit of both, and eventually, they slept and not one of them better than the other. There’s nothing like having two children to make it glaringly obvious that tools, tips and techniques are only useful in good luck, and that what matters most is the simple act of giving love. Over and over, again and again.
As I age, and my babies age, I am learning that the only way to give my children the love, empathy and support they need is to first give it to myself. And, this requires a kind of shift that I’d say is pretty difficult to make when you have tiny babies, but not as difficult to make once they’ve grown into mouthy, small children (albeit, CUTE and mouthy small children). Still, it takes real, conscious effort to learn to take the oxygen mask first, again. I still struggle, in my body, to believe that could possibly be the right thing to do. Some kind of person was born along with both of my babies, and that person is me, their mother. Getting to know this new person is no small feat, and I find it even harder to crack her code since she so often turns to her children and seems to identify, primarily, with them.
But, my babies are no longer babies, and their changing needs are changing me. Some days, accepting that I have to put effort, space, time, air and breath back into myself and back into my body in order to give to them feels like a strange punishment, an alien request, an inconvenient truth. The world is rough, and for a while it was made less so because I looked only at those two tiny bodies.
I want to teach them patience, so I must learn it. I want to teach them faith, so I must practice it. I want to teach them compassion, empathy and generosity, so I must discover how worthy of those things I am, myself. When my child cries, I can no longer pick him up to make it stop. I have to teach him to find courage and be vulnerable and feel his feelings-all things I still continue to learn. It’s all new work these days, and the thing is, the work is really all in me.
It’s strange and spiritual and simple how giving birth isn’t just about bringing a baby into the world. Raising children isn’t just about keeping growing bodies out of harm and learning right from wrong. Each year that my child grows, so do I, and this is as terrifying as it is wonderful.
All ye mamas on the brink of having babies, or watching your babies become toddlers and then children, I send you my sweetest, most tender hugs. The road forward is a heartbreaking, soul saving and life-affirming journey into yourself. I’m there, at least that much I know.
xo (here we go),